Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Burning Bridges

Once upon a time, I prided myself on an exceptional collection of good relationships with ex-boyfriends. I'm certain that it seems strange to curate good terms with the gone bad. But I've always been desperately dedicated to keeping the good opinion of the greater population - even those who break my heart. For a long time, it didn't occur to me that these peaceable relations were an oddity. It wasn't until the line of past relationships grew rather long that I realized what an anomaly those tender treaties were.

For the longest time, there was, at the head of the class, the High School Almost Boyfriend. We'll skip The Freshman Year Experiment - it ended badly - and move on to The First Real Boyfriend. That relationship truly went down in flames amidst a cheating scandal (gasp!), but somehow through my dogged determination to be at peace with all humanity, we found our way back to good terms, albeit some years after the infidelity incident. 
On I went to The Long-Term Boyfriend, who was incidentally my partner in crime in the cheating scandal. We held together through five cities, three colleges and universities, and one breakup and reconciliation.The second breakup was of the volatile varietal, and we spent three years in silence while I dated The Second Long-Term Boyfriend. After four years, that fell apart, too; I crossed state lines, and we managed a tentative truce. 

And then there was The Barrister. And if ever one of my relationships ended in a blazing pile of ruins, it was that one. Perhaps those embers, sparking and sputtering in the smokey aftermath, are what kindled those other bridges, which started to burn with ferocity.

The First Real Boyfriend got married and our waning conversations were finally burned away completely. The Second Long-Term Boyfriend assumed a stony silence, and even when I tried to rebuild the smoldering bridge, it crumbled like so much ash between my fingers. And then The Long-Term Boyfriend got engaged, and thirteen years of on-and-off conversation ended in spontaneous combustion that severed everything. The bridge I prided myself on so much went up in smoke.

Now I'm standing on the side of the bridge where fate has left me watching the flames eat away at all those carefully constructed pylons and planks. Every one of those former loves have found their way back to heartbreak - a second heartbreak where I learned that I can't have the elusive friends-after-lovers relationship. I have to mourn the loss again and suffer through the what-ifs and the what-went-wrongs. I have to accept that the place that they had in my life burned away, leaving that fresh, shiny, tender pink new skin. And maybe I have to face that, now that the bridges are burned, I'm going to have to go another direction. Forward, perhaps?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When the Chips are Down, Wager Boldly

At an outing with coworkers on Friday afternoon, I revealed that I would not be attending the company Christmas party because I was attending the holiday festivities of The Engineer's workplace. It was a fine trade-off with me in most respects; I'd planned to attend the ATown office Christmas party on Friday, so missing the big shindig in Hotlanta didn't sadden me too much.

The revelation was followed by a million questions about The Engineer, and I was honest with them in saying that I was undecided as to his fate in my love life. And that in general, I was exhausted with dating and ready to wash my hands of the whole evil business. That's when things got interesting.

RK, who is part-owner of the firm, threw a $20 bill to the bar floor. "That's $200," he yelled. "It's $200 on you."

I looked at him open-mouthed, wondering what he was all fired up about and finding it hard to take the $20 seriously where it lay beside his pedicured feet with their alternating red and green toenails. That's his lot in life for offering an outing of our choice to a bunch of ladies.

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm putting $200 on you. And I may up the ante, but - let's record this," he barked.

One of my coworker dutifully dug out her iPhone and urged him to continue. "Today is December 9, 2011. And I'm wagering that in two years - TWO YEARS FROM RIGHT NOW - Ashley will be engaged. Or I owe her $200."

And that was that. I picked it up the $20 bill, looked into the iPhone and yelled, "I'll take that bet."

It's on, people.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Disasterous Run at Having a Love Life

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Ash in want of a boyfriend is an unmitigated disaster. As proof, I give you the shambles of what one might call a love life if the string of sordid events from the past year outlined below could even pretend to assume such a likeness.

  • The CPA - Delivered to me on 29 points of compatibility - two of which I've come to believe are "human" and "alive" - The CPA and I made it through the four stages of online communication like two cadets on the obstacle course of dating. And in real life, when we met, it was...boring. Our chemistry was like all the lab experiments I was forced to perform during a summer chem course - unresponsive and a complete failure in producing the expected reaction. We hugged gamely at the end of the evening and never spoke again. Truth be told, I can't remember his name.
  • The Zealot - With the trappings of all normal people, The Zealot was also funneled into the pipeline by Dr. Neil Clarke Warren's evil machinations. He was affable if a bit overly nervous, polite if somewhat solicitous, and attentive if only slightly creepy. He "we'ed" a lot and there was a strange preoccupation with his married friend whom he wanted to emulate down to the point of buying a house in the same neighborhood. It wasn't until he insisted that our third date take place on Valentine's Day that I truly began to notice the red flags. And when he showed up at said third date which I insisted be on another day (any day for the love of God) other than Valentine's Day with a pink bag frothing with tissue paper and containing a mixed CD complete with meticulously compiled liner notes, I drew the line. As in the line of communication. And I cut it.
  • The Old Friend - In the midst of my fruitless online search for someone new, someone old emerged from past. An old friend, a college friend. We never dated, but I harbored a latent crush while we both dated other people. We lost touch and reconnected over the years, but after a profound and prolonged silence, there was suddenly the magic of Facebook to bring us together again. And soon I was embroiled in an intense texting affair and then a roadtrip, all of it doomed. I knew before it began that it would be over. And then just like was.
  • The Paper Boy - Doubly burnt by the eHarmony's dimensions of compatibility (which seemed to include the Twilight Zone), I quit paying to be sent out on bad dates and looked a little closer to home. The Paper Boy and I had been acquainted for going on a year, having found a mutual love of Counting Crows, barbecue and biting sarcasm. We were chums - dude friends, if you will. Until we weren't. Until one night when we were leaving a concert, and it was cold and he put his arm around me a pulled me into his coat to keep me warm. And then he asked me on a date. It took weeks to schedule because of our respective business travel, but the date was pleasant and fraught with anticipation until it ended abruptly when we arrived back at my house to find my visiting friend asnooze on my couch. Ouch. But a second date never really happened as we entered some strange game of cat-and-mouse until I finally called him out on his behavior (after a couple of strong gin drinks), and he confessed that despite his declarations to be moved to date me, he found the idea less palatable in practice. The office sent me flowers of mourning after that particular disaster.
  • Dr. Feelbad - We met on Halloween. I was dressed as Shirley Manson, clad in fishnets, a micro-dress and a can of hairspray. He was dressed as the devil. (Like that shouldn't have tipped me off...) I flirted outrageously - he was tall, dark and sexy. I was sort of dressed like a hooker. A Ph.D. candidate, clearly smart, he made quirky sophisticated jokes and looked impeccable in a three-piece suit. He got my number...showed up at my tailgate on Saturday and then met me out for drinks later (after which he took me home...and once again, I had a house guest. Note to self: STOP ENTERTAINING). The following week we took the texting route of flirtation. I met him with a group of his friends for drinks. And then...finally...he asked. "Let's do something tomorrow - movie, your place." After work the next day, I sped home, cleaned the house and was sitting calmly on the couch in a rather fetching outfit that said relaxed but tempting when I received his text message at nearly 8 o'clock letting me know he had friends in town and did I want to meet them out for drinks later. Dear Captain Blowoff: suck it. I haven't heard from him again.
  • The Engineer - Despite my failed attempts at online dating before, I decided to return to it. Only, if it was going to be rife with failure, I was going to do it for free. I joined OkCupid, which, along with its other free counterparts like Plenty of Fish, is a get-what-you-paid-for-endeavor. The searching is sketchy at best, and the matches presented on your home page may have absolutely no compatibility with you whatsoever. You're likely to be solicited by married people in open relationships and drunken college boys looking for a gameday hookup (ewww). I have literally been addressed as "Ms. Hot Rod" in an email from this site. So that's how I met The Engineer - the least creepy and even - dare I say it? - almost promising match! We met, and he was, in fact, not creepy. Bonus points: he was attractive! And now we've been on several dates, and I'm in that awkward phase of trying to determine my next move with this guy who has made no bones about not wanting marriage, children or to live in this country for that matter. Because, even now, even when I found someone I might like to date, it can't be easy. Where would the challenge be in that?
Lest you think this list is comprehensive, I'm leaving out the guy who I met online under an assumed name who turned out to be recently divorced and looking to flee the country. Or the guy who professed his affection for me after a date I didn't realize was a date and didn't want to be a date. Or the preacher's son who is a cop and a known profligate who has suddenly started texting me.

And please don't slap me with the admonitions that I will find someone because there is someone for me and I have to kiss a lot of frogs and I have to be patient and-

Seriously. Don't. I acknowledge all those things. But I direct your attention to the above...and you can't argue...that it pretty much sucks. Am I right? I thought so.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What It Means

Instead of taking the most direct route home from our western Carolina travels a couple of weeks ago, we opted for the Blueridge Parkway. Dad drove to the nearest access point and then wound us high into the mountains, over the viaduct, which juts away from the mountain in a free-floating road between the leaves. The Parkway was, of course, jammed with leaf-lookers just like us. Motorcyclists admiring the views in their leather clad legs and military-style half-helmets. Families gathering on overlooks and pleading with nearby strangers to take their pictures.
I only took a few snaps from one of the overlooks. Dad held my beltloops to keep me steady on the low rock wall overlooking firs and oaks and maples against a cerulean fall sky. Mama didn't even get out of the car for these expeditions; her fear of heights kept her strapped tightly in the car likely reading to take her mind of what she assumed would be the tumble I'd take to my death.
Instead of trying to overphotograph the moment, I bade myself enjoy it. The drive took hours at a languid pace along the scene highway. We volleyed between being deep in conversation, laughing maniacally, munching kettle corn and contemplative silence. We wound through Asheville down to Highlands and Cashiers. At the highest points, low-growing trees scrubbed against the peaks, already stripped of their leaves. But somewhere along our descent, we hit the altitude where it was peak fall colors. As we followed the curves of the mountain in a slow, dreamy caress, we entered a section where the tree canopy reached all the way across the road, a tunnel of fire and honey. The sun broke through the trees in a gilded dance with intermittent shadows.
In a moment of forgetting where I was, I said out loud, without thinking, "This is what they mean by 'dappled in sunlight.'" Dad looked at me from the driver's seat, at his daughter who is always the one that says these odd things, these pronouncements from her inner-monologue that don't match the thought patterns of anyone else in the family. And then he laughed, because I'd said it, and it was true.
Miles later, we bent around the mountain into an even longer, more glorious tunnel of autumn color. After a few general declarations of its beauty, Dad said, "Now this is dappled in sunlight." And I laughed. Because in that moment, I knew there way understanding beyond definitions.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Drunk on Haterade

Welcome to Fear and Loathing in Ashvegas. See how I did that? Prepared you to think how funny it will be when I deliver the subsequent self-deprecating remark? I should start with something simple and surface. I could comment rather cavalierly about the sad state of my waistline. But with more wit. Something like, "It's a good thing I have big boobs - they detract from how fat I'm getting." That one actually scores double points because I have called attention to my uncomfortably large chest in addition to to my chubbiness. You couldn't believe how many ways I've come up with to call myself fat - overweight, big-boned, rounding, tipping the scales, fleshy, get the picture.

From the superficial, we could cross over into something slightly more personal. How about my unmarried status? There is some seriously fertile ground for Ash-bashing. We could have a few laughs - at my expense, of course - about the time lapsed since my last date. Like, "I haven't been on a date since Congress had a 50% approval rating." But after a few generalized chuckles, we have to dig deeper. To really pour on the haterade, you have to mock the heart of the matter.

You have to turn the guns on your current personal position and blow it to smithereens. Like a double agent, you have to expose yourself to the enemy and then take yoursellf out. Because, really, all you're doing is taking exactly what the enemy is thinking, dipping it twice in sarcasm, sprinkling it with a little clever wordplay and serving yourself a deceptively sticky sweet ball of venom.

And that's when you start to get drunk on the haterade. When the self-defense against what you think might be said and voicing all of the fears and doubts inside your head become a mantra that snakes through your brain until you really start to believe it. You really start to think that all those things you're saying to be funny are true. That you are fat. And that you will be alone forever. And, more than that, you will be alone because you're deficient. Because you're less than what anyone else would want. You start to see those fears and doubts and insecurities that existed in your mind become reality because you made them so...because you allowed your mockery to become who you are.

I presently have a haterade hangover. It makes my head ache sometimes, choosing between the easy, glib remark and responding in a more self-respecting manner. I mean, it's funny. The haterade makes people laugh. And despite my best efforts, I sometimes still take a shot. But other times, I'm trying give myself a fighting chance against the hair of the dog that bit me.